Fight Town

Josniel Castro (left) and Russell Lamour sparring at the Portland Boxing Club. photos/The Fuge

Fight Town
The forgotten history and foggy future of boxing in Portland

by Matthew Jude Barker

If the history of boxing in Portland were condensed into a single bout, it’d be the fight of the century, a long and bloody battle in which the stakes are nothing short of the sport’s survival in this city.

The complexion of the combatant representing boxing in Portland would change with every round, from the street fightin’ Irish of the 19th century to Russell Lamour Jr., “The Haitian Sensation,” today’s reigning local champ. Generations of Italian, French, Jewish and African-American boxers have risen from the underclass to achieve fame, if not fortune, in the Forest City. Boxing enabled many to overcome odds stacked against them by lives marred by abuse, neglect, madness and addiction. Many lost their boxing careers to the same demons.

In the opposite corner, the face of the force threatening to knock the sport out of town keeps changing, too. Before prize fighting was legalized in Maine, in 1907, the opponent was the police. One of the most anticipated bouts in the city’s history never actually happened. Local pugilist Peter Daly squared off against a brawler named Hugh Devine in a vacant lot near Center Street in November of 1857. As several hundred spectators watched, the two men stripped to their waists and were preparing to do bare-knuckled battle when the cops arrived and broke up the fight. Back then, illicit matches often took place in out-of-the-way locales, like the empty fields of Cape Elizabeth.

Portland boxing roared back to life in the first half of the 20th century. The popularity of live local bouts took a hit in the 1950s, when the Friday night fights on TV kept fans glued to their sets at home, but by the end of the next decade Portland was one of the best boxing cities in the world. Every Thursday night, thousands of locals packed the Portland Exposition Building on Park Avenue to cheer on homegrown heroes like Pete Riccitelli and Gene “Hurricane” Herrick in match-ups against fighters from other parts of New England, as well as New York, Jersey and Philly.

This analogy is not so far-fetched, in that the existence of boxing in Portland has rested on the shoulders of only one of two people over the last 50 years. When legendary promoter Sam Silverman died in the mid-1970s, the weekly bouts he put on at the Expo died with him, and the sport sputtered along for a decade and a half. In 1992, a former glove boy at the Expo ring named Bobby Russo started the Portland Boxing Club, and he’s almost singlehandedly kept the sport alive in Portland ever since.

The threats to boxing’s viability in Portland these days are numerous and imposing. They include the popularity of mixed martial arts (a.k.a. Ultimate Fighting), the growing public consciousness and concern about sports-related brain injuries, and those old foes that never quit punching: entertainment and economics.

Russo — a barrel-chested man of 62 with a downturned, graying mustache — has groomed some of the boxers he’s coached to become trainers, but at present there is no heir apparent, no one with anything close to his experience and connections to take over the Club and its team of amateurs and budding pros. Whether the sport will survive for another decade in Portland is an open question, but one thing’s for sure: you can’t count it out yet.

Rounds 1 to 5 (1860-1960)

As the resident historian and genealogist at the Maine Irish Heritage Center, I’ve spent countless hours reading through the pages of Portland history in search of notable Irish citizens, and found more than a few who made their name with their fists. For example, Daly, the aforementioned bare-knuckle boxer whose bout was busted by police, was raised by parents who came to Maine from County Galway. Daly later became active in Democratic Party politics as a ward heeler, showing the faithful where to vote and where to drink (not necessarily in that order).

In the early 1880s, Irish brothers Mike and Jimmy Barry took the local boxing scene by storm. Jimmy eventually became the lightweight champion of Maine. Mike opened a saloon on Center Street near Gorham’s Corner, the epicenter of Portland’s Irish community, where the Brian Boru Public House now stands. Among the fighters who trained in the ring he built behind the pub were brothers Bartley “Wildey” Murphy and Martin “Giller” Murphy, who also hailed from County Galway. Wildey Murphy’s famous fight in Presumpscot Park against “Kid” Wallace, from Montreal, lasted for over an hour. Boxing matches in those days could stretch for over 70 rounds, ending only when one fighter lost consciousness or both were too weak to lift their dukes.

Another character I came across was Thomas “Honest Tom” O’Neil. O’Neil joined the Union Army at age 14 and went on to become a bar owner and boxing promoter in Portland. He befriended John L. Sullivan, the “Boston Strong Boy,” the last heavyweight champion of the bare-knuckle era and the first heavyweight champ of gloved boxing. Sullivan, who was nearly as famous for his boozing as for his boxing, used to knock ’em back at O’Neil’s saloon on Center Street when he came through town. In 1897, O’Neil had to bail Sullivan out of jail after the drunken champ beat up a hansom-cab driver in Biddeford over a perceived slight.

In the early 1900s, a fighter named Bartley Connolly became a local legend. Born in St. Paul, Minnesota to parents from Galway, Connolly grew up in Gorham’s Corner, fought all over New England and the U. S., and participated in several boxing tours of Ireland and England. A typical purse he won in those days was the then-princely sum of $750.

Connolly fought 37 bouts as a welterweight between 1903 and 1913, earning a record of 11 wins, 12 losses and 14 draws. His first fight was against Bartley Feeney at the Pastime Athletic Club, on Federal Street in Portland, on April 6, 1903, a match promoted by notable local boxing manager Jack Caley. It was there, in September of 1908, that Connolly fought and beat “Barbados” Joe Walcott, a former World Welterweight Champion, in six rounds. (Granted, Walcott, who’d accidentally shot himself in the hand four years prior, was not the same fighter who’d earned the fearsome nickname “The Barbados Demon.”) In March of the following year, Connolly went up against the South African fighter Andrew Jepson at the prestigious National Sporting Club, in London. The Portland Daily Advertiser declared that Connolly was “showing great class in England and it was certainly a big feather in his cap when he secured a bout before the National club, which is one of the biggest organizations of its kind in the world.”

The first of three boxing fatalities in Maine took place during this era, when Terry Martin gave his opponent, Jack McKenzie, such a mauling during a match in Portland in 1906 that McKenzie died of his injuries. Martin was acquitted of any wrongdoing.

Among the lengthy list of celebrity Portland pugilists of the time was John “Kid” Donahue, a Maine flyweight champion who owned and operated Donahue’s Restaurant on Free Street with his brother, Tom. The Donahue brothers sold alcohol on the sly during Prohibition and were once escorted out of their establishment by federal agents — to the cheers of a crowd that had gathered to support the Kid and his sibling.

The Portland Expo opened in 1915 and was the premier spot for local boxing for the next six decades. Luminaries like Jack Dempsey and Gene Tunney made appearances there in the 1920s and ’30s. Guy Gannett, publisher of the Portland Press Herald, was a big boxing fan and a friend of Tunney’s, who spent summers in Maine. Tunney was a frequent guest on Gannett’s radio station, WGAN, in the late 1930s. The link between boxing and newspapering was formally forged during this period. The Golden Gloves tournaments, brainchild of Chicago Tribune sports editor Arch Ward, began in the 1920s and spread nationwide, supported by daily city papers. To a worrisome extent, their fates are still intertwined.

The most prominent Portland-born boxer of the World War II era was Coleman Patrick “Coley” Welch. Nicknamed “The Fighting Iceman,” Welch started training in a casket factory on West Street that doubled as a gym. His fought his first pro bout at the Expo in May of 1936 and went on to fight throughout New England until 1949. He was the New England Middleweight champ for six years until his loss to the famous Jake LaMotta, “The Raging Bull,” on St. Patrick’s Day in 1944, at Boston Garden. Welch operated (what else?) a bar on Brackett Street, in the West End, after he retired from the sport, and later moved to Las Vegas, where he found work as a security guard at Caesars Palace and frequented Vegas gyms, dispensing wisdom to young boxers. Welch’s remarkable record was 105 wins, 24 losses and 6 draws, with 51 victories by knockout.

Another notable local fighter of that period was West Ender Dick Redmond, who won the Welterweight title at the Golden Gloves in 1948 and fought professionally at the Expo in the early ’50s. A member of the Maine Baseball Hall of Fame, Redmond is the compiler of the Maine Boxing Records Book, 1922-2000, an invaluable resource for aficionados.

Attendance at local boxing events declined during the ’50s in tandem with the rise of televised pro matches, like the wildly popular Gillette Friday Night Fights. But Portland was lucky. We were within the orbit of legendary Boston-based promoter Sam Silverman, and in the 1960s Silverman put Portland on the boxing map.


Program covers/courtesy Portland Boxing Club.

Rounds 6 and 7 (1960-1991)

Silverman was a man of many monikers. “He was known as ‘Subway Sam,’ because he used the city’s rickety subway system to shuttle from one arena to another,” boxing magazine The Ring recalled, “‘Suitcase Sam,’ because he kept a suitcase filled with cash in the trunk of his car, ‘Sad Sam’ because he never stopped complaining, and ‘Unsinkable Sam’ because in a career spanning nearly four decades, 12,000 fights, many court battles, and at least two attempts on his life, Silverman stayed above water.”

Unsinkable Sam grew up swinging his fists in East Cambridge, the son of Jewish Russian immigrants, but soon transitioned from boxing to fight promotion. His claim to national fame was his promotion of Rocky Marciano’s early bouts, but this rotund, cigar-chomping character was revered regionally for having “[kept] boxing alive in New England,” as the New York Times noted in his obit.

The weekly matches Silverman presented at the Expo from 1966 to 1975 were the hottest ticket in town. “Portland was just nuts about boxing at the time,” said Gary Libby, an attorney who attended the fights with his father. Bollard columnist “Tackle Box” Billy Kelley recalled sneaking into the Expo with his pals in junior high. They were in awe of local boxers like Riccitelli, Macka Foley, Herrick, and Leo DiFiore, from Munjoy Hill. The drama in the ring that night was “all we’d talk about the whole week afterward,” Kelley said.

Looking at photos of those bouts today, Russo — whose uncle, George Russo, was chairman of the Maine Boxing Commission — said he can still smell the smoke from all the cigarettes and cigars, mixed with the scents of popcorn and hot dogs. “It was brutal,” Russo said of the air in there.

But the atmosphere was electric, and Silverman really knew how to put on a show. For example, the programs, which sold for a quarter, had blank scorecards on the back that fans could use to keep their own round-by-round point tally. By reading the Ringside Report, by Jerry Saint Amand, a fella could impress his gal with inside knowledge about every fighter on the card. The middle spread could often double as a poster suitable for hanging in a locker or on a barbershop wall.

“He was just a good matchmaker,” Russo said of Silverman. “He wasn’t so much a promoter, because all he’d do was come — there wasn’t enough time to actually promote anything anyway. There was really no posters. It’s every week, you couldn’t keep up with it. Then he’d rematch and do stuff in Worcester, all over: North Adams, Mass.; Waltham. He could do five shows a week sometimes. It’d be crazy, but there was a lot of fighters back then. That helped.”

Herrick was fighting at the Expo every two weeks in ’67 and ’68, a punishing schedule that’s unheard of in boxing these days. The Portland school boys of this century who’ve passed Herrick on the sidewalk downtown while he washes store windows have no idea how close to greatness they are, but anyone who saw him fight in his prime will never forget our hometown Hurricane.

Riccitelli also maintained a Herculean fight schedule in those days. He fought 87 bouts between 1965 and 1978, finishing with a record of 56-30-1, 23 of those wins by KO. A flashy figure who loved the fans, especially the ladies, Riccitelli cruised around town in a Cadillac with license plates that read BOXER. And he was no stranger to mischief. An oft-told tale is that the Mafia once shot at him and put several bullet holes in his beloved Caddy. (Riccitelli made a cameo appearance in the epilogue of “Jake Sawyer’s Story” last month, in which it’s claimed that he helped Sawyer push stolen cars off the Maine State Pier.)

“More than any other boxer, Riccitelli was responsible for the large crowds which attended the fights in Portland after 1966,” sports writer J. Don MacWilliams wrote in Yours In Sports: A History. Riccitelli fell on hard times later in life and suffered a stroke. Tragically, he took his own life in 1997, at the age of 54. There’s been an effort to get Riccitelli posthumously inducted into the Maine Sports Hall of Fame, a distinction Russo and many others believe he certainly deserves.

Foley, a product of St. Dominic’s School and Portland High, was one of the most popular fighters to come out of Portland since Coley Welch. “Irish Macka” fought professionally from 1969 until 1979, with a Vietnam tour in the Marines in between. He moved to Hollywood in 1986 and appeared in three movies (including the 1990 box-office smash Ghost) and many TV shows and commercials. Foley also worked as a trainer in L.A., helping world champions like James Toney and Israel Vasquez, and was the personal trainer of celebrities like attorney Robert Shapiro and actors Mark Wahlberg and James Franco.

Foley died unexpectedly in August of 2015, aged 64. “He was a boxing trainer and a saint of the sweet science,” Franco wrote on Facebook after Foley passed. “I spent years with him. He showed me that anything in life: boxing, acting, or just living, is all about breathing and being relaxed in yourself. I’ll never forget him.”

“After Sam, the sport kind of died off,” Russo said. “There wasn’t a lot of amateur boxing going on. And then Joey Gamache came along, from Lewiston, and that brought some interest back.” Gamache, who fought professionally from 1987 until 2000, is the only boxer from Maine to have held a world title, winning the World Boxing Association Super Featherweight belt in 1991 and the WBA Lightweight title in 1992.

One of Gamache’s first fights was at the Expo. His last bout, in February of 2000 at Madison Square Garden, was against Arturo Gatti, who almost killed him in the ring. It was said that Gatti, who knocked Gamache out in two brutal rounds, weighed considerably more on fight night than the contracted weight set when the bout was arranged, turning the match into a lopsided contest between a welterweight (the 145-pound Gamache) and a 160-pound middleweight.

Lamour (left) and Castro sparring at the Portland Boxing Club.

Rounds 8 and 9 (1992-2017)

The Portland Boxing Club occupies a crumbling whitewashed brick building in a vacant lot near Morrill’s Corner, behind the old-school Italian restaurant Bruno’s. Its towering brick smokestack dates back to the early 1900s, when the warehouse was used to kiln-dry lumber, said Skip Neales, a trainer who’s been Russo’s right-hand man since they opened the gym 25 years ago.

The walls inside are plastered with posters, photos and press accounts of local and national champs. On a recent evening, I saw about a dozen boxers from middle school to middle age, black, white and brown, male and female, jumping rope, hitting the bags, and practicing punches in front of a full-length mirror. In the center of the room is an 18-by-18-foot ring. There’s a small weight room in back and a desk up front where gym business is conducted. (The Club also has a small office on Woodford Street, where Russo works during the day.) Underground rap blared on the sound system, the beats mixing with the manic rhythm of speed bags and the steady thwack of rope on concrete.

The glory days of the Silverman era are not coming back, so Russo always knew he’d have to do things differently. “You cannot replicate something that was done 30, 40, 50 years ago,” he said. “It’s a different world. Actually it’s a different world today than it was yesterday, the way that it’s going. It’s ridiculous.”

“After Sam, one of the problems was there was no real grassroots program like we have here — amateurs that graduated to pros,” he continued. “We always have good amateurs in the pipeline. … The reason we have good success is because we’ve got the fighters, we have the local fighters, and that’s what sells tickets.”

Early on, “I did just the little amateur shows that would do 500 people,” Russo recalled. “But you couldn’t get in. We always liked that. That was a phenomenon. People say, ‘You can’t get in the place!’ — even though it was a small place.”

Shows during the Club’s first decade were held inside its gym. “It was a very cool venue. It was like a club thing. Just the ring lights would be on,” said Russo. “Two hundred and seventy-five chairs; the rest would stand. One night we had 563 people in here, which was ridiculous. You couldn’t move. Every square inch was taken. To get to the ring you had to go sideways through the crowd. That’s the way to do it. I’d much rather sell out than to have a place half empty.”

As interest and attendance grew, the Club moved its matches to the nearby Stevens Avenue Armory and, four years ago, to the Expo, where the six shows the Club has presented there have packed the place like the old days. A promoter from Connecticut who’s been struggling to put on successful events attended a recent show at the Expo and told Russo he’d never seen anything like it. “‘Was there anybody left in the town?’” the guy asked. “‘I see old people dragging an oxygen tank, people with baby carriages, all colors — everybody was here!’

“And it was really true,” Russo added. “Part of the thing that people like is it’s kind of like a reunion, everyone sees everybody.”

“There’s really an art to promotion,” Russo told me. “People are dying for me to do a show, because I don’t do it all the time. If you overdo it, it kills it.” The Club is only presenting one show this year, in November, at the Expo. “I used to do five or six shows a year, but I had to, ’cause they were smaller,” Russo explained.

“When I first started, in January we’d go to the Golden Gloves. So what I would do is whack my credit card and take the kids. I mean, when you’re taking 10, 12 kids” to an out-of-state tournament, “we stay overnight, breakfast is 200 bucks, you know? And then the hotel rooms and stuff. To go to the Golden Gloves cost me a few grand. So then I’d do a show and pay it off. … That’s how I existed. A lot of the clubs come and go because they don’t really do shows.”

The Portland Boxing Club’s team — a group of about a dozen amateurs and four to six pros — is Russo’s first and, really, only priority.

There’s good money to be made providing personal training to people who approach boxing as a fun way to work out. “We get a lot of people that want personal training, and it’s a good score,” Russo said. “I did it somewhat — you can get fifty bucks an hour — but I found that by the time my fighters come in, I was burnt … mentally, not necessarily physically. There’s only so much you have to give, you know, and quite frankly it’s just so frustrating to work with someone that can’t do anything.”

“This is not Gold’s Gym,” Russo added. He passes people who want personal training along to a handful of former and current team members, like Liz Leddy, who leads a beginners’ class at the gym on Saturday mornings. “We just don’t have enough coaching staff to handle everybody,” Russo said. “So I don’t need more people. We have plenty.”

As the Executive Director of New England Golden Gloves and a member of the tournament’s national board, Russo travels a lot and has seen scores of local boxing programs. Not every club is as scrupulous as his. “I could have — if I was a club like I’m thinking of, without naming ’em — 60 people on the team,” he said, “but I really make it a tough standard, because, for one thing, it’s a dangerous sport and my kids, by the time that they fight, they’re well schooled. And they usually win, a lot, because they’re good before I let ’em in. I don’t let ’em even spar until they’re pretty good. So to get on the team is kind of an accomplishment, because the standard is high.”

That standard extends to team members’ personal conduct, as well. The Club’s motto is “Making Champions & Good Citizens,” and the basis of that is respect.

“Part of what makes amateur boxing especially popular and acceptable is … the type of kids that we deal with,” said Russo. “A lot of kids have troubled backgrounds — they don’t have a father, they come from broken homes — and this is where they learn respect. … That’s what is demanded here. If you’re not going to be respectful and you’re not going to do what you’re supposed to do, then you’re no longer welcome here.

“But over 25 years,” he added, “there’s only been like three of four people that I said, ‘You gotta leave.’ There’s a couple of kids right now that … are just not doing the right thing, and they’re very talented, but I said, ‘You know what, I don’t want to see ya for 30 days. You want to come back in 30 days and try it again, and apologize, we’ll let you back in.’”

Leddy is an inspiring example of the Portland Boxing Club’s ability to change, and even save, lives. “She might be one of our greatest success stories,” Russo said of the Club’s first female boxer. “She was a homeless person. She was on the streets since she was 13 years old. Did every fuckin’ thing in the world wrong — drugs, alcohol, couch surfing, abuse, sexual abuse, everything. And she met a guy and the guy was coming here, and she started here and never left. She became a two-time national champion.”

In 2014, director Sharyn Paul Brusie made a short documentary about Leddy, titled Liz, that’s part of the 2015 Online New England Film Festival and can viewed on the Festival’s website ( In the film, Leddy said that when the boxer she’d met “took me out to that warehouse in the middle of nowhere, I was graciously accepted by Bob Russo, and Skip Neales really took me under his wing. … God bless them for recognizing that I did belong there.” The training and opportunities to compete and build self-esteem were only part of what the Club provided Leddy. Proceeds from a bingo game Russo ran out of the back of Bruno’s paid for her to attend school and become a professional hair stylist.

The Club’s next big success story could be 19-year-old welterweight Josniel Castro. The son of a troubled single mother, Castro’s unstable childhood ill prepared him for the demands of life as an adult. “Someone like him, if he wasn’t here he’d be in jail — there’s no question,” said Russo. “Because he don’t know how to work, he don’t know how to even apply for a job.” But, the coach added, “When you come from a background like that, you also have a street toughness. He’s really not afraid of anything.”

Last December, Russo brought Castro to the USA Boxing National Championships in Kansas City. The coach was unnerved by his young boxer’s sangfroid. “At the Nationals, usually it’s such an intimidating experience,” Russo said. “It’s like nothing to him. He didn’t think anything of it. He was so relaxed it made me nervous.”

Castro beat three tough opponents to reach the semifinals, and Russo believes he could have gone further had he not unjustly lost an ugly bout by decision. He’s ranked third in his weight class by USA Boxing, a “big accomplishment” for a fighter with fewer than 30 bouts, Russo told the Bangor Daily News last March. The Club has helped its young fighter get a driver’s license and continue his education, “so he’s on the right path,” Russo told me.

Jason “The Fighting Fireman” Quirk (left) and Castro sparring at the Portland Boxing Club.

The Final Round?

To be sure, not every boxer comes to the Club from a place of poverty and neglect, but boxing remains a poor-man’s sport.

“This is not hockey, it’s not gymnastics. There’s no money,” said Russo. “The kids don’t have money. So the yuppie-type people that come in that just want to hit the bag, they pay dues. The rest of the people, it’s the honor system. If you’re workin’, you can pay; if you’re not, you don’t.”

The Club’s monthly gym fee is a paltry 25 bucks. Revenue from dues “probably pays the light bill,” Russo said. The Club, which operates as a non-profit, is dependent upon its annual Expo show for the bulk of its financial support. Much of that revenue comes from sponsorship provided by local businesses that place ads in the event program. Last year’s event had over 130 sponsors. Businesses also provide in-kind donations, like the car dealership that donates a new van every three years, and sporting goods companies that provide equipment.

Russo personally hustles up pretty much every penny. And therein lies the risk that could sink the sport in Portland. “The thing is, if I get hit by a bus, the revenue stream is over,” Russo said. “My hope is … that these guys that I’ve trained will become trainers. I need the help anyway, because when we have a fight, I’m trying to work with six or eight people.”

Two nights a week, the coach does mitt work in the ring with members of the team, most of whom are four decades his junior. During these training sessions, “basically you’re doin’ everything that they’re doing, so I’ll do 35, 40 rounds,” Russo said. “That’s a lot, and it gets harder and harder.”

Other potential threats to the Club’s future are cultural attitudes and waning interest in the sport among young people. The risk of brain injury is “definitely an issue,” said Russo, though he noted that “amazingly, amateur boxing is one of the safest sports,” in part because amateurs wear protective head gear and box relatively infrequently. But try telling that to a worried parent watching their son or daughter get knocked around the ring.

The surge of popularity mixed martial arts (MMA) has experienced has cost boxing an untold number of fans and competitors. “Boxing kind of went off TV at the same time MMA went on TV,” Russo observed. “They captured a generation of young fans and we lost a generation of fans there.”

“I really don’t get it, to be honest with you,” Russo said of watching MMA, “because if it was boxing, the people would be throwing stuff at us if the fight ended in 15 seconds. Most of the [MMA] fights end like that.” The appeal of longer MMA matches also mystifies this old-school boxing coach. “It’s not fun to watch someone on the ground for 15 minutes,” he said. “For one thing, you have to watch it on the screen — you can’t see it, they’re on the floor, and they’re doing jiu jitsu moves and stuff, but how is that a fan-friendly thing?”

“Obviously these guys are tough guys and I would never disrespect them,” Russo added, “but it’s just different. [MMA] has become more interesting because they’re standing up more and striking, which is what we do anyway, so the exciting part of that sport is what we do. Joe Frazier said it best: ‘They’re all good, but I just have a problem with it when they call it a sport. How is that a sport when you put someone on the ground and then you get on him and hit him or kick him when he’s on the ground?’”

Such jabs aside, Russo has found a way to join forces with Maine’s MMA community to the benefit of both sports. He’s teamed up with promoter New England Fights to present a show on June 17 at the Androscoggin Bank Colisee, in Lewiston. There’ll be a ring and a cage at the Colisee for each type of fight, and at the top of the card is a six-round middleweight boxing match-up between the Club’s champ, Lamour, and MMA standout Bruce “Pretty Boy” Boyington.

“I’m all for it,” Russo said of the new collaboration. “The more the merrier when it comes to action and local action, because it’s almost doing me a favor to help advance my guys without three months of work to put the show on.” It’s also cheaper and easier to find opponents for top-level boxers like Lamour locally. The last time Russo had to arrange an opponent for The Haitian Sensation, “we had to go to Costa Rica to get somebody, and flying him in, with two guys, and the manager gets a piece … it gets expensive.”

Beneath all the hype, there’s what Russo referred to in passing, almost as an afterthought toward the end of our interview, as “the real purpose” of the Portland Boxing Club: enabling young people like Leddy and Castro and Lamour to realize their full potential as athletes and human beings.

“Liz’ll be here as long as the gym is here,” said Russo. “She’ll be here 40 years from now, because it’s like an addiction. It’s not a sport, it’s an obsession. … This is the kind of thing that really supports who we are and the real purpose and so on. But you can’t do it unless you’re a fanatic like myself that loves boxing.”

“Boxing will be here forever,” Russo concluded. “It’s just to what level and to what level of popularity?”


Matthew Jude Barker is the author of The Irish of Portland, Maine: A History of Forest City Hibernians. Bollard editor Chris Busby contributed reporting to this article.